There once was a time when the arts were for the people and by the people. Products and art pieces were created by craftsmen and possessed a real human touch, this led to us creating work that mattered and had a real sense of meaning. When looking at design periods such as the William Morris’ arts and crafts movement in the 1880s, we see that everything was handmade, intricate, well made and reflective of that time period. The V&A (2016) describes the arts and crafts movement as something “that grew out of concern for the effects of industrialisation”. With the arts and crafts movement designers of different disciplines were trying to change lives by creating visually rich work of quality and not just focusing on quantity and convenience.
A following movement starting in 1919 was industrial modernism, with the Bauhaus being at the forefront. The Bauhaus came about as they also wanted to change how people thought socially, similarly to Arts and Crafts they encouraged designers from different disciplines. Although modernism had an opposing methodology to Arts and Crafts (it was more functional and modern), the masses still felt like it had social value. These design movements had people talking, Ewen (1990) believed that “design held the fate of civilisation”.
With design holding this much power in the world, people started to realise that it could be used to manipulate the masses which brought about war propaganda. This is where the morals of designers would start to get questionable. Governments would hire designers and illustrators to sell the war to their citizens. Through the use of propaganda, the war went from something that was morally questionable to something that appeared to be almost positive as propaganda made people feel guilty if they were not ‘patriotic’ and did not help out by fighting for their country. This re-enforced a selling culture within design that was birthed with mass-production. Which could really be seen in 1950’s design which all about consumerism and advertising.
Now we are left with the modern day, in which we have supposedly traded design being a social commentary to being all about consumerism and the act of selling. Ewen (1990) suggests that design has lost all moral value and identity, good design is now design that sells. Design is no longer made by the people its now made by the big cooperation’s who are concerned with high profit margins. This expands above and beyond design we can use music as an example. The majority of music these days sounds mechanical and templated, this was not always the case as there were days when music had that human touch that was previously mentioned.
Maybe as designers we have lost a bit of identity. When looking for inspiration designers are quick to look at past movements, which explains why modernism is still modern. However, maybe consumerism is an identity, I would say we are in what that I would call the digital revolution. When looking at products that are mass-produced such as the iPhone we tend to take them for granted. We can now plan our lives out on technology as it is so well designed and efficient. Designers and programers are creating apps such as twitter which gives us a social platform to discuss anything that is going on in the world. It can definitely be argued that design has created more of a social commentary and has more of an impact on the world than it did in the past. How many conversations in the world can be heard about the latest phone or computer?
If we are talking about modern design from a moral perspective design agencies and independent designer’s create guerrilla campaigns that rebel against cooperation’s, the government and the so called higher ups. Last year in Lewisham a campaign targeting Metropolitan Police was taken down, maybe contemporary designers are not to have a voice that loud?
keywords political graphic art and design; manifesto; social responsibility; design ethics; utopia; culture jamming